How can I use the brand as a change-management tool? —

by Bastian Schneider
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The importance of the brand is often underestimated. It can noticeably speed up critical change processes and can significantly lessen many problems and resistances – if applied professionally from the beginning.

Big change management

A brand is more than just the logo, the corporate design or the corporate communication. It is an image that is rooted in the public consciousness, which is always characterized by an emotional attachment. Internally the brand is the meaningful core, the carrier of self-understanding. It generates culture, solidarity and orientation. It is the platform for corporate objectives and ambitions and illustrates the attitude of the company. Externally the brand is the link for all stakeholders and helps in establishing a distinct profile over the long term. It is the promise of a company and the basis for client relationships. Briefly: a brand is trust.

The impact of the brand in change processes

A brand is therefore the strongest connection that a company has with its stakeholders – external and internal. This means: the brand is a company’s best approach to people and their attitude. This makes it, from our point of view, a central starting point in the context of change processes. Especially when many things are changing, when everything is in motion, when fears and uncertainties arise, then a brand – understood as a change-management tool – can be of particular benefit.

The brand as a compass

Who are we? Why are we necessary? What do we want to achieve? What distinguishes us from our competitors? What do we need to do to be successful in the future? To questions like these or similar ones there are widely differing opinions; especially when an organization is situated in a critical process of change.

Allegedly insurmountable perceptions and attitudes are accordingly put forward with emotional vehemence. Many people feel connected both to history and the status quo. And they are often sceptical about anything new. In addition, an unclear situation at the start is always a breeding ground for political games. Personal fears about the future and frustration about unclear instructions, missing information or failed initiatives, also have a negative impact on the atmosphere.

In such a situation the “brand” theme provides the opportunity to lead the organization to an intense engagement with itself and to facilitate a positive, forward-looking discussion on the key issues of self-understanding. Attention can be drawn step by step to the common issues which are always there despite all the differences. Furthermore it can be shown how the status quo with something new relates to something better. Thus understanding for the necessary change measures is promoted and intellectual barriers and negative responses are reduced.

If clear brand positioning is developed during the process and is geared to the organization, this will have a maximum effect. Ideally, therefore, brand positioning should:

  • contain a vision of the future (What drives us forward?),
  • be authentic and distinguishing (What  makes us special?).
  • be driven by management (What is our strategy?) and
  • lead to concrete action (What needs to be done?).

In this manner, the brand as a compass brings specific future orientation.

The brand as a catalyst

Once the brand is identified, it can be used positively to make the strategic business objectives come alive for the whole organization. Therefore a new visual identity is appropriate – with its support the intended future can be visible and tangible in a highly attractive manner. When this is connected with inspiring events and appealing communication tools the communal spirit and faith that the company is on the right path will be further encouraged. Content by itself, to which many limit themselves in the context of change communication, can only rarely have this impact on the majority of employees, because it only fosters understanding on a cognitive level. But in order to reach the hearts of the employees, emotions have to be awakened. And this works best with the brand!

The brand also provides valuable services in transferring abstract, strategic objectives into the daily business of the individual employees. By the use of team workshops or cross-departmental project groups, concrete and personal engagement with the brand can be initiated. Typical questions are, for example: How can the development of the brand be aligned with the brand? What does the brand definition mean for answering the telephone? Or how do I react to customer complaints in the meaning of the brand? Many change programs fail at this point, because they are unsuccessful at translating the strategic targets into everyday business and therefore fail to get each individual to really understand the actual meaning.

With the help of the brand, employees can be addressed to a major, integral effect: besides the information (= head) they can also be touched on an emotional level (= heart) and become activated to perform in a brand-oriented (= hand) way. As a catalyst the brand accelerates this process of developing understanding.

The brand as a steering wheel

The brand encourages employees in judging their activities from the perspective of the strategic target state. And they are animated to organise their everyday work accordingly. But in order to change something sustainably the realignment generated must be maintained for a long time and steered in detail. This is not an easy task, because soon the many ordinary challenges push to the fore.

But also at this point the brand provides a unique opportunity to keep the subject on the company’s internal agenda. A key role comes to the managers. It is up to them to set an example of the brand with its contents, values and goals and to apply it actively in the context of employee leadership; by explaining, for example, the difference between desirable and undesirable behaviour on the basis of the brand in particular work situations or whilst evaluating the progress of projects with brand requirements. The brand as a steering wheel thus facilitates and fosters the targeted daily leadership of employees.

Conclusion: The brand gives ambitions wings

The effort is well worthwhile! An indicatory brand which has become alive in the hearts and hands of the employees lets the whole company pulsate to the rhythm of the targeted state. If it succeeds in getting the employees in the right mood for the brand, the management has a powerful instrument in its hands. It exerts influence on the behaviour of all employees solely with the brand, without the need to intervene in specific detail with processes or operative decisions. Change measures make significantly more sense to the employees. They are more open-minded and turned more strongly to the future. This brand-oriented understanding of leadership is a way to lead the employees with the aid of content and conviction, rather than control.